It has only been 487 days since David Beckham officially announced his retirement from top-flight football and ended a career spanning 21 years and five countries but it somehow seems like a lifetime ago.
For a majority of fans, Beckham is an iconic figure representing the best of English football – the best, perhaps, of Britain itself. For younger fans who only saw his latter days with LA Galaxy, AC Milan and Paris St Germain, he is perceived as a globally respected figure. He is a globetrotting ambassador of the game who has appeared everywhere from the red carpet of Hollywood to the speedboat powering along the Thames delivering the Olympic torch to the London 2012 opening ceremony.
So, having travelled the world playing the game, how does he look back at the leagues he played in and the players that were by his side? Squawka were lucky enough to get an exclusive interview with the Manchester United and Real Madrid legend.
“Every league was different,” he says, diplomatically, ”But La Liga and Premiership were probably the toughest I played in. I loved my time in Madrid and that probably challenged me most as a player because the technical level was very high and I was playing alongside the very best.
“It would have been a dream though to play alongside Maradona…”
“I’m lucky to have played with many great players in my career – Zidane, Cantona, Ronaldo, Carlos, Giggs amongst others…It would have been a dream though to play alongside Maradona…”
Having been involved with so much of the world game for so long, Beckham is arguably the best possible person to know how a football business should be run.
It may have confused some to begin with but with interest in soccer in the United States at an all-time high, the strategic decision to exercise his right to open a franchise club in Major League Soccer now looks like a masterstroke.
“I’m as excited now about the team as I have ever been,” Beckham said enthusiastically. “The people are behind the club and there is real excitement about bringing a team there.”
Miami is the location Beckham has settled on to create his team. It is a proven ground for sports franchises to flourish thanks to both favourable climates and passionate local fans. However, the choice has been questioned by some quarters as risky. The state of Florida currently has three NFL teams (one being the Jacksonville Jaguars belonging to Fulham owner Shad Khan), two NBA teams, two NHL teams and two Major League Baseball teams.
“Like anything of note, there will always be small challenges to overcome, however we are in a great place and our vision for the city is a strong one,” stated Beckham matter-of-factly.
The last point is pertinent when understanding exactly how accomplished a statesman Beckham has become. He understands that hearts and minds of fans – the lifeblood of any sporting organisation – must be central to any meaningful endeavour. The challenges in selecting, and getting approval, for his ideal stadium location is not one he feels will hold back the vision he has for the project. Indeed, as recently as last week he admitted to American television network Bloomberg that he feels he is being ‘cheeky’ in his choice of location but has alternate sites. Beckham also signed off the interview in a typically determined fashion – ‘it will happen’.
There is no doubt that the US has taken to Beckham in a big way and the feeling seems mutual. It’s a commonly held view that American sports fans are more in-tune with the statistical side of their games than the British – now “soccer” is taking off is there a marked change between US and UK fans?
“Stats are major part of all US sports. They are a key part of analysing a team and player performance not only by the coaching staff but also the fans. Fantasy Sports is bigger in the US than anywhere in the world.”
This is a point worth exploring especially as Beckham’s former partner in crime on the Manchester United right-hand side, Gary Neville, is plying his new trade in the Sky Sports studio offering expert analysis on Premier League games.
Beckham realises that statistics as ‘content’ for fans is on an upward trend in the UK, “Stats are a growing part of football now…I can only see that getting bigger.“ One can only imagine what data will be on offer for fans of his new Miami franchise.
Back in the English game and the topic drifts on to a subject David Beckham is more than qualified to discuss – the current crop of English midfielders. The retirement of midfield stalwarts Steve Gerrard and Frank Lampard has served to shed extra light on the subject and fuelled debate regarding the future of the Three Lions’ engine-room. Two talking points from the recent international break revolved around the potential of Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling and the best position for Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere.
“Wilshere can play anywhere in midfield”
“He [Sterling] is a genuine talent,” Beckham enthused. “He had a fantastic season last year and now he needs to achieve that consistency year in and year out like all top players.”
“We need to be patient and allow him time to grow as a player. I believe he will be a top player for Liverpool and our country for many years to come.
“[Jack] can play anywhere in midfield. Look at his performance against City- he was one of the best players and he was in a creative role. He just needs a good run without injuries and I’m sure he will shine for club and country. Roy and Arsene will know how to play him…”
One club that was conspicuous in its absence from the England squad named to face Switzerland was Manchester United. Only Wayne Rooney and defender Phil Jones were part of Roy Hodgson’s squad list – a striking difference to the days of the Class of ’92.
Beckham’s old club have undergone the most extreme of surgeries this summer and, having signed a plethora of stars, new manager Louis Van Gaal is hoping for instant returns this season. However, despite a comfortable 4-0 procession over QPR yesterday, some are still questioning the Dutchman’s methods pointing to the fact this was his first win of the Premier League season.
“We have to be patient and give the manager time”
“We have an experienced manager who has won league titles in many countries so you have to trust him to deliver success,” Says Beckham confidently. “We have signed very good players, like any group they need time to settle and gel as a team. We have to be patient and give the manager time.”
As ever, fan opinion has been divided on the amount of money spent and the players brought in but Beckham looks upon the new signings with the eyes of someone who has seen these situations many times before.
“I have no doubt that players such as Di Maria and Falcao will deliver for Manchester United. The very best players always perform at the highest level whatever club they play for.”
David Beckham has shown us many qualities that we didn’t know he had -be it in the guise of club owner, businessman or global ambassador. However the overriding feeling he gives us is one he has always given us – the feeling that he is one of our best and something the United Kingdom can be proud of.